Can We Guess Your Content Consumption Habits Based on Your BuzzFeed Quizzes?

The more “open” and “connected” our online worlds become, the less emphasis on quality there seems to be. Think about what an article needed to go through to be published decades ago. Hours of editing and desk editing and layout and styling. And when it was finally out to see the light, it was there forever.

The focus then was on quality, the privilege of being published and read by the public.

Is being published now a privilege?

In her book The People’s Platform, Astra Taylor argues that websites like Buzzfeed’s primary job is to “game social networks”. She calls viral posts content-posers, only pretending to be the content readers are used to in the traditional sense. Published interactions, if you will.

These website are so full of content. Full of content is a strange sentence to say, because “content” itself is an abstract term. But they mainly depends on user and staff-generated listicles, the more and sillier the better, because that’s what people share. If it works, it’s successful.

Taylor puts it in a way that compares journalism as an industry to something that almost lost its ground and is starting to follow were the users want to go instead of lead the cultural discussion:

“We are entering a new age where every aspect of a creative artifact’s life can be quantified, measured, and analyzed. The filter bubble and journalism have collided: a generation of newmedia moguls targets its products to respond directly to readers’ whims, scouring search engine trends, poring over most-e-mailed lists, and crafting content.”

Though it might seem harmless to have these kinds of light websites, the effect can turn around and hurt the quality of web content with every bar the user (even unintentionally) lowers. The effects are already starting to show in how mainstream media is changing their game.

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Several mainstream media are being called out for not covering important happenings now, and not until the criticism goes viral that these media outlets pay attention, because they are becoming more and more viral-oriented, rather than quality-oriented.

Big publications want a part of the cake too, if following viral content is directing consumers to Buzzfeed, get on it! Everyone wants to eventually make money, so Kim Kardashians hair shade becomes breaking news.

I agree with Taylor that vitality encourages creativity and that Buzzfeed truly managed to crack the “viral code”. After all they have a huge presence on the web that is mostly dependent on social sharing. Her arguments, however, make me more worried about the future of content as a journalist, and having to follow what Justin Beiber is having for breakfast, because that is all the content the audience wants to know.

Jay Rosen says it better in his book What Are Journalists For?

“The question mattered because certain ideas about the press follow from the view of the public they contain. If the public is assumed to be “out there,” more or less intact, then the job of the press is easy to state: to inform people about what goes on in their name and their midst. But suppose the public leads a more broken existence. At times it may be alert and engaged, but just as often it struggles against other pressures—including itself—that can win out in the end. Inattention to public matters is perhaps the simplest of these, atomization of society one of the more intricate. Money speaks louder than the public, problems overwhelm it, fatigue sets in, attention falters, cynicism swells. A public that leads this more fragile kind of existence suggests a different task for the press: not just to inform a public that may or may not emerge, but to improve the chances that it will emerge.”

An Open Letter to Lanier

Dear Mr. Lanier,

I have recently been reading your book You Are Not A Gadget for class, and while it’s not a book that I would usually read in 4 days, I did read your run-on rant on how everything has gone so, so wrong and how “new media” if we dare call it that has ruined every possible hope of a new civilization.

It should have been obvious, Mr. Lanier that since you start your book by criticizing your book that this was going to be…peculiar.

“It’s early in the twenty-first century, and that means that these words will mostly be read by nonpersons…”

also, ouch!

“—automatons or numb mobs composed of people who are no longer acting as individuals. The world will be minced into atomized search-engine keywords within industrial cloud computing facilities located in a remote, often secret locations around the world.”

You are right, Jaron. But see, even though I am the human rarity reading this book, I did use search-engine keywords and cloud computing services to read your book, and so did you probably throughout writing and publishing this book.

I agree with you that the world is becoming more technology-oriented, but that doesn’t mean we will turn into gadgets, much like the silver space suit still hasn’t made its debut in everyday culture as expected.

We are increasingly depending on technology, and it is taking a toll on us, but it has its upside. It has a huge upside that I‘m worrying you’re missing out on. Open culture didn’t drive creativity out the window, it’s just that we are still living in the capitalist world we’ve always been living in. Profit will always be the winner. Expecting that to change just because we are introducing a new medium and new platforms and new ways of publishing and connecting isn’t good for you. Because some things will simply not change in life.

The internet isn’t all low-quality content looking for money, the internet is not a big “slum”, it’s where you look that matters. Who says that only signed artists should make music, what deems them good anyway but the audience, the people?

Concerns over who is “running the internet” is a valid argument, I’ll give you that. But the “lords of the cloud” are systems and companies, and they are run by people. It always comes back to people and it always did.

Living in an open, digital culture is not a threat to my humanity, value and contribution. I am not a gadget, no one is a gadget and no one is turning into a gadget.